Asking me the question “how much should a website cost” without any context will likely yield the answer “somewhere between $0 and $100,000+?”. And that really isn’t sarcastic, that’s the reality of website creation today - there are so many options, all at varying price points, customization options and ease of use, that makes answering the question of how much a website costs difficult to answer. I’m going to generalize and put websites into three broad categories:
- The DIY Website/ Website Builders
- Fully Custom
- Webflow + Larkspur
1. The DIY Website/ Website Builders
On paper, the most affordable option is to use a website template builder. Popular services include Squarespace and Wix, which heavily market the DIY angle. Services like GoDaddy, Google and even Vistaprint also offer free website builders as part of their service addons. For the purposes of our discussion, we’re just going to focus on the website build and not ongoing hosting costs, integrations or annual fees, as that’s a whole different conversation.
I would compare these 'Website Builders' to an off-the-shelf closet solution. We’ve all seen those Rubbermaid wire-style closet shelves. They’re cheap, they’re easy to install and they get the job done. There are arguably nicer options as well, Ikea and The Container Store both offer really lovely closet options. I would say these would be similar to some of the paid templates that are available, generally between $100-$500.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these website builders, some of them are honestly beautiful. The problem comes from the fact that these templates are largely inflexible. The Ikea Pax system comes in three widths and two depths - so what happens if your space doesn’t exactly fit that? Well….you have a gap. Or, you have to have enough carpentry experience to work around the limitations. And it can be done, but it’s more than the average person really wants to take on (certainly I was more than happy to just live with my 7 cm gap instead of wrestle with a jigsaw, trim and caulking). Website builders are notoriously difficult to manipulate. Squarespace can be manipulated through code, but only on the business plan or higher, and most people don’t know how to code.
It can also be hugely time consuming to build your own website when you’ve never done it before. I’ve built a lot of Ikea over the years - it still took 3 full days to build all the closets in my house. And these website builders don’t exactly give you a step-by-step guide for how to build your website. Sure, you can drag and drop images - but what images should you use? Do you have enough of your own or do you have to go find stock photography. Do you have enough content, or do you have to go write more? At some point you have to ask yourself if this really the best use of your time, or would it be better doing something you're already good at - sales? streamlining operations? fulfilling orders?
And after all that time? You probably will get something that looks nice, but more likely than not it’s not going to be quite as nice as the template would lead you to believe. That’s because those templates are designed by designers, and while it might seem like you’re just swapping a few things here and there, the reality is that the impact is much bigger than you’d imagine. You update the colors and suddenly everything doesn’t look cohesive anymore. Swap out the professionally edited photography for your own and suddenly it doesn’t look as lux. Other people are likely going to use that template too, which can make it difficult for you to stand out among your competitors.
Form aside, what about function? While these sites might look beautiful, it is possible that it doesn’t perform very well. Why? Well there could be lots of reasons. Building and maintaining a website that performs well requires domain knowledge, knowledge that takes time to learn, and more time to stay on top of as technology changes. These are things that simply just don’t occur to most people. You may not have used images that are sized correctly, leading to slow load times. You might have not set titles, meta descriptions, or alt tags so your site doesn’t show up in search results. Suddenly you have a closet with drawers you can’t open because you didn’t account for the space you take up while standing in it.
2. The Custom Website
On the complete other side of the spectrum is the fully custom site. The general process for this is that you will work with an agency to collect your requirements, go through a full design process and then the project is handed to a developer/development team to code into reality. The sky is the limit when you go this route - if you can dream it, they can create it. But having something completely custom involves a lot of hours, and the price tag reflects that. A custom developed site will run you at least $10,000, though $30,000-$50,000 is more typical.
I would compare a custom website to hiring a designer and contractor team. They work with you to figure out what it is that you need - mirrors, rotating tie racks, a steamer, jewellery storage, custom lighting - the sky really is the limit. Maybe you want a specific type of material, or additional security features. Whatever the need, your team will work with you to lay out the blueprints and design to accommodate your needs. Those plans are then given to the build team. The master carpenters, craftspeople, electricians, plumbers, flooring installers, come in to bring the design to life.
So, is a custom site worth it? Well, it depends. Now, I will absolutely defend the price from the perspective of effort. The price tag reflects the number of hours that multiple highly skilled professionals are putting into your project. And, as long as you use a reputable agency, the quality, design and function are all top notch. The integrations are endless - I’ve seen sites with custom tracking to inform marketing decisions, integration into CRM channels, users that are put into an automated drip campaign, impressive animations and interactions and more.
Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a custom site, it’s just that most people don’t need one, but there are some legitimate reasons to spend that kind of money. Take closets - people with mobility restrictions would absolutely benefit from pull down clothing rods, wider spaces and floating shelves that won’t catch on walking aides. A stylist may have a custom closet for the purposes of dressing clients and needs a specific layout or have pieces with specific storage requirements. Heck, maybe you’re a Kardashian and need to have a milk fridge at hand (no shame, whatever makes you happy). I’m not bashing custom sites by any means, I’ve sold and built them and made multiple clients very happy. But those clients had specific needs that made it worth it - integrations with other softwares, complex security requirements (think financial institutions), complex product configurations, specific CMS requirements, the list goes on.
The other thing to keep in mind with a custom website, is that it’s rarely a build it and forget it situation. Products change, information needs to be updated, new pages need to be created, updates to design need to be made, the list goes on. So you’re not just paying for an initial higher cost, you’re locked into a custom site for future development as well. You also need to audit and review the code on a semi regular basis to ensure that it’s sufficiently modern and still performing optimally. Search engines like Google may also update their requirements and penalize poorly performing websites. Website builders will take care of some of these updates for you as part of your monthly fee as they improve the base platform that the site runs on, but with a custom site, you have to pay to have that done yourself. This isn’t necessarily bad as you can do it on your own schedule and prioritize what parts of your site to update, but it is a cost you have to budget for - a bit like owning a home vs living in a condo with strata fees.
3. Webflow + Larkspur
Look, I know I said I would put these into broad categories, but Webflow plus us gets its own. If we’re going to get really technical, Webflow is a website builder like the ones discussed in section 1, but after a decade of designing and building sites, Webflow is far and away our favorite website builder. It outperforms its competitors on animations & interactions, CMS capabilities, SEO power, but most importantly - it is highly customizable. The one place it doesn’t do as well? The learning curve is also much harder meaning you’ll need someone who understands both web design and website structure to help you build your site (that’s where the + Larkspur comes in).
In this scenario, you would go through a requirements gathering and design process just like you would with a custom site. But unlike a custom site, it’s not handed off to a team of developers to code - Webflow takes care of all the coding. That saves you the cost of all those development hours, which typically accounts for 50-70% of the cost of a custom site.
I would compare Webflow to California Closets. A consultant helps you measure and design your dream closet. They then come in and build the closet to your custom specifications. However, you need to stay within their material options, finishes, and components, so the sky isn’t the limit here, but I would go out on a limb and say that this will meet the needs of the majority of people out there.
The biggest pro of this? You get a 100% custom designed website. It’s not just a matter of something being unique to you, but also having a site that perfectly fits with your branding and your technical requirements cannot be understated. Not only can you control the design on desktop (which is what most people think about), but you can also control it across multiple devices. Given that more than half of people use mobile to browse the internet, controlling your mobile experience is more important than ever.
By going with a reputable agency to design your Webflow site (Larkspur is a great one!), you also get the expertise and experience of an agency at 40% or less of what a custom site would have otherwise cost. That’s a huge benefit. I trust lots of experts in my life - plumbers, restaurants, landscapers - because they can not only do it better and faster than I can in most cases, they also have a level of domain knowledge that I simply do not possess.
So? Which option is the best one and how much should a website cost? I’m still going to stick with “it depends” as my answer on this one. It’s like Goldilocks - each one of the options works for someone, it just depends on who you are and what your business needs! In general I would say -
- The DIY Website/ Website Builder option is great for people who need something cheap and cheerful, have a good eye for design, but aren’t concerned with customizing the design, and have the time to research and learn some basics of website structure and SEO optimization.
- The Custom Website option is great for larger companies with many divisions or countries and complex domain structures, ecommerce businesses with complex product and checkout configuration, and companies who need to have advanced security requirements.
- The Webflow + Larkspur option is the best for those who want a high performing, custom designed website, but don’t need all the bells and whistles of a fully custom site. Webflow is also a great option for a business who is starting out and might eventually need to move to a custom site, but isn’t quite there yet. Why? Because unlike other website builders, Webflow will let you export your website which you can then give to a development team when you’re ready for those advanced features.
So, reach out and explore which website option is best for you.